Reaction to leaked document undermining Roe v Wade shows misplaced priorities

by Meryl Links

Tue May 3, 2022 · 1225 words · 7 min

The news breaks

On May 2nd, the website Politico published a leaked draft document from the US supreme court, detailing a majority decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark decision in which the court ruled that the US constitution protects a pregnant person's ability to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. Penned by Justice Samuel Alito, the draft asserts that the original decision was "egregiously wrong from the start". The court's decision will not go into effect until it is fully published, although if published as it is currently written, it would effectively end federal protection of the right to abortion access in the United States.

Trans Safety Network wishes to, first and foremost, express full solidarity with all who will be affected by this attack on reproductive rights. It is our position that abortion must be free, safe and legal everywhere.

The reaction

Many politicians and organisations took to twitter to express their solidarity with people affected by and fighting against this attack on reproductive rights. Organisations such as National Women's Law Center and NARAL, Pro-choice America tweeted their support for abortion access. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted about the necessity of ensuring that abortion is safe and easily accessible.

In response to their statements, these accounts were hectored over their use of language by gender critical twitter users making distracting and tangential statements, such as attempting to link events to ongoing discourse over trans inclusive language, or the notion of trans inclusion at all.

A screenshot of a twitter user replying to Nicola Sturgeon's tweet about Roe v Wade with 'Please define the term woman'.
A screenshot of a twitter user replying to Nicola Sturgeon's tweet about Roe v Wade with 'Please define the term woman'.

Sturgeon's tweet attracted dozens of comments from 'gender critical' and GC-adjacent accounts demanding that Sturgeon 'define woman', having used the word in her tweet Sturgeon has previously made statements expressing solidarity with the trans community, which has resulted in her becoming a recurrent target for bad faith harassment from anti-trans accounts. Despite Sturgeon's tweet having nothing to do with transgender people at all, gender critical accounts felt compelled to use the statement as yet another platform to voice their irritation with her for her trans-supportive stances. Replies to Sturgeon included a remark implicitly referencing Sturgeon's support for transgender people with the oblique implication that her support for transgender rights somehow undermines her ability to fight to protect abortion. Other users were more direct, using their comments to sarcastically bring up issues like 'self-ID' or including anti-trans hashtags and phrases like 'biological reality'. One user attempting to hector Sturgeon even included the tag "#RepealGRA", as though trying to imply that the Gender Recognition Act was somehow culpable. Replies and quote-tweets were both used to repeatedly ask Sturgeon to 'define woman' (examples: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) claiming variously that a supposed inability to do so renders her statements meaningless and worthless, or that her use of the term somehow vindicates anti-trans rhetoric around the use of the word.

The replies to the start of a tweet thread by National Women's Law Center was similarly flooded with gender-critical and anti-trans talking points. The tweet from NWLC uses the phrase 'pregnant people', which has recently become a phrase that draws harassment from anti-trans campaigners for its inclusion of transgender individuals. In response to the tweet, dozens of twitter users responded by either directly voicing their displeasure with the phrase 'pregnant people' or offering sarcastic and frustrated 'corrections' insisting that "only women can get pregnant" (examples: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14). One user accused NWLC of 'dick-pandering' for using inclusive language. This rhetoric amounts to a repeated and increasingly aggressive denial of the existence and identities of trans men.

A screenshot of a twitter user replying to NWLC's thread on abortion with 'Women. Women become pregnant, not “people”. This affects women'.
A screenshot of a twitter user replying to NWLC's thread on abortion with 'Women. Women become pregnant, not “people”. This affects women'.

As though the repetition of this denial wasn't tedious enough however, twitter users also mocked the name of NWLC in exactly the same fashion, by sarcastically noting that the word 'women' is in the title of the organisation, suggesting they should either cease using inclusive language or rename themselves (examples: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9), even going to far as to suggest that inclusive language might be to blame for somehow undermining the fight for reproductive rights, and sharing a meme from Helen Saxby making the same assertion, that trans inclusive language is somehow to blame for the legislative attacks on reproductive rights. It it worth noting that the claim made by Saxby in the meme does not appear to reflect or reference any actual arguments being used by groups advocating for restrictions on abortion, it is merely an assertion that trans inclusive language emboldens attacks on abortion. In reality, the groups and lawyers who are attacking abortion rights are also deeply involved in the fight against transgender rights and LGBT rights more broadly.

Conclusion

In the wake of this extremely troubling news, anybody trying to talk about the impact of a possible overturning of Roe v Wade is finding themselves in a double bind. If they use the word woman, gender critical activists flood their mentions to demand definitions of the word or make sarcastic remarks about trans inclusivity. Whereas if more inclusive phrases such as 'pregnant people' are used, the same demographic of people will instead insist on the use of the word 'woman'. In either case, the responses distract from the topic and hand and derail the conversation, making it instead about attitudes to transness and trans inclusion. These bad faith replies contribute nothing to the conversation, and don't do anything to offer support to people affected by the news.

If you were to try and come up with a strategy to purposefully derail conversations about reproductive rights and obstruct anybody from communicating or expressing solidarity, you would genuinely struggle to outperform the displays of extreme bad-faith demonstrated on a regular basis by accounts associated with the 'gender critical' movement.